The Other Poutine (Part II)

This post will supplement my Part I by adding reference to an early poutine in Quebec. It is not the French fries/cheese/gravy dish now known from Montreal to Mumbai, but an English-style pudding.

It is recorded by Lorraine Boisvenue in her 1979 “Le Guide De La Cuisine Traditionelle Québécoise” (Stanké, Montreal), at p. 255.

As the standard accounts reveal, see for example this Wikipedia entry,* “poutine” has been used in French America to equate to the English pudding, among other non-French fry dishes.

This doesn’t mean, as I discuss in Part I, that the English term inspired the French one. In fact I think the reverse is more likely via the term boudin, arguably a cognate to poutine. But it does show that in North America, where British and French culinary heritages mingled, the term poutine was adapted to embrace an English-style pudding.

Ms. Boisvenue’s dish is called ‘Poutine à la poche’. Note that she places the words in quotation marks, showing that in her estimation, the name was informal or folkloric.

A la poche means in the pocket, but what does that mean here?** The recipe is for a British-style pudding. Ingredients include milk, flour, butter, raisins, baking powder, eggs, nutmeg, and a cloth in which to steam (not boil) the pudding for two hours.

She specifies to use a grand morceau de coton propre. So a big piece of clean cotton or linen, meant to wrap the pudding and cook it to a soft succulence, whence she advises to eat it with the sauce of your liking.

As for countless dishes in the inherited Quebec repertoire, the long hand of British influence is discernible.

The pocket must be the cotton bag, or “poke” we might say, a British dialectical term that migrated to America and is related to the term pocket.

A pudding in a bag. Why not simply call it Pouding à la poche, then? It is not because Ms. Boisvenue was averse to using an English loan word – she gives four recipes in the same section for different “poudings”. One is pouding au suif, or suet pudding. Another is rice pudding. More U.K. influence, clearly.

There must have been a tradition in Quebec, in some families, to use the term “poutine” for this particular steamed raisin pudding. This could be further proof that the term is truly French in origin, although its long reign on the French Riviera (see Part I) shows that clearly enough.

There is no reference to the French fry poutine in the book. It was too early, even if the dish had currency by then in snack bars around the province. Even had Ms. Boisvenue encountered the French fry poutine, she may well have disdained to include it in her book, which after all is concerned with traditional home cookery – slow food, we might say.

Such was the scope of this tradition that she states the book could have comprised 10 volumes. We are fortunate to have the one she did author. Yves Thériault, the prolific Quebec novelist and radio broadcaster (d. 1983), wrote the preface. He is remembered especially for his prescient 1958 novel, Agaguk.

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*This entry, and the Canadian Encyclopedia entry referenced in my Part I, might be edited to include the French poutine documented in my Part I.

**”Pocket-style” is another rendering.